Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Bike fees: Misinformed, misguided and a step backwards for Toronto

Read more articles by

From today’s Toronto Star:

Giorgio Mammoliti boldly announced Wednesday that if elected mayor, he would introduce a $20-$30 registration fee for bikes. “It’s an agenda that seems to be taking over so far in this election. It’s all about the downtown core and the downtown agenda, and the suburbs don’t want to continue to subsidize these pet projects,” he said.

With all due respect, he’s got all his facts wrong.

Cyclists live and ride all across the city, and there are major infrastructure projects happening in the suburbs right now to help ensure that cyclists have a safe place to ride in every part of Toronto.  In fact, the city (along with federal and provincial funding) is spending $23 million in North York and Scarborough to build bikeway trails – far more than is being spent downtown.  (The downtown bikeway projects will cost an estimated $330,000 this year.)

So his math is completely backwards.  Not only that,  but according to the city’s own Cycling Survey (2009), utilitarian cycling is growing faster in the suburbs than in the core. (download PDF report highlights)

Mammoliti’s proposed bicycle fee would only bring in about $35 million a year (minus the enormous cost of administering a whole new system of licensing).  City staff reports have repeatedly stated that costs outweigh any potential benefits when it comes to licensing or registering bicycles.

From a 2006 staff report:

“There are an estimated two million bicycles owned by residents of the City of Toronto.  The feasibility of implementing an on-line licensing system for bicycles to generate revenue must be evaluated on the following points: the cost to implement such a programme, public education, practicality for enforcement of the programme, jurisdictional challenges, and, the effectiveness of such a programme for generating on-going revenue.

In order to recover the administrative costs of the programme and to ensure that sufficient revenue is generated on an on-going basis, the cost of the licence would need to be set at a value that may be considered exorbitant.

Other municipalities have looked into the costs of implementing and administering a mandatory bicycle licensing requirement. In 1991, the former City of Ottawa evaluated the financial feasibility of licensing bicycles to generate revenue to fund on-going cycling projects.  Its investigation determined that it was unlikely to cover the administrative costs of running the programme, let alone to generate sufficient revenue, and the idea was abandoned.”

So forget about that idea.

But the real flaw in his thinking is the idea that cyclists aren’t already paying their fair share of the costs of road-building and maintenance.  The exact opposite is true.  According to the Cycling Survey, most cyclists also drive cars (full report, page 64).  So most of them already pay the Vehicle Registration Fee.  81% of recreational cyclists “have access to a car always or several times a week”.  For non adult cyclists, the number drops to 67%.   So the entire notion of cyclist VS driver is baseless and misleading.

Furthermore, the vast majority of cyclists on Toronto roads are city residents and pay city property taxes. But many drivers are from the 905 and don’t contribute to our municapal tax base (nor do they pay the vehicle registration fee).

Here’s the most important fact.  54% of Toronto adults are cyclists.  They many not ride every day, and they may own and drive cars.  But they own bikes. And asking each and every one of them to register and pay an annual fee for each bike will just result in thousands of bikes gathering dust, a small amount of  revenue, and a huge step backwards for Toronto.

Key Findings from the 2009 City of Toronto Cycling Survey (PDF)

Full Survey Results and Comparison between 1999 and 2009 (PDF)

Cross-posted from Mez-Dispenser



  1. I think we may be overstating the costs of enforcement. Since it’s Mammoliti, he’ll have already called in the army to deal with the Rexdale/Malvern gangs. Hopefully they can stick around to hand out tickets to non-registered bikes too…

  2. “And asking each and every one of them to register and pay an annual fee for each bike will just result in thousands of bikes gathering dust…”

    And thus not have those bikes in the road, so that they don’t “obstruct traffic” and “create accidents” and their riders aren’t around “kicking cars” and “showing aggression”.

    I think the truth is that he really wants to ban bikes altogether, but knows he can’t say that.

  3. I love how people are for the environment until it comes to taking out their wallet. cyclists are such hypocrites. pay up and start obeying the rules of the road

  4. I remember Giorgio Mammoliti enthusiastically supported the bike lanes on Jarvis; now he’s taking a hard anti-cyclist position and calling that a downtown pet project subsidised by the suburbs.

    This is only a theory, but I think he’s intentionally trying to split the votes with other anti-cycling candidates. If that’s the case, WAY-TO-GO Mammoliti!

  5. Sigh. Drivers are such hypocrites (@ Rob Chrysler).

    *All* city roads are paid for out of property taxes. It doesn’t matter if you actually *use* the roads or not. Cyclists with no car pay just as much for the roads as drivers who abuse the roads much more.

    The facts are quite the opposite: non-drivers are vastly subsidizing drivers so they can keep their cushy cars on the expensive roads.

    I love how drivers think they’re all self-sufficient until you try to take their subsidies away.

  6. @ Rob Chrysler

    If only drivers wouldn’t honk at me when I am following the rules of the road…

    (Sorry for the double post).

  7. I actually find these comments by Mr. Mammoliti to be offensive. In fact the entire rhetoric of this election is starting to get a bit depressing. It’s frightening to think that there are leading candidates in this election who would actually be against more bike lines and further revitalization of downtown. Let’s not forget that in addition to bike lines Jarvis St. would receive an overall beautification which benefits those living in the community (such as myself) as well as those riding there bikes or god forbid even walking. It’s sad that almost every other large urban centre are looking at ways to curb car use and potential future mayors of this city are looking for ways to increase car traffic. Unfortunately because of the whole Giambrone scandal I’m not seeing a strong progressive voice amongst the current slate of candidates.

  8. Rather ironic for a fire-breathing, no-government-is-good-government, conservative candidate to advocate setting up a new bureaucracy that will be lucky to even pay for itself.

  9. What if bicycles, bike parts, services, related safety equipment and the like were hit with a 1% sales tax fee in the city of Toronto to help fund bike related infrastructure?

    The federal government is already in a position to administer the tax (the HST), and it wouldn’t be too hard to hand the revenue back to the city for bike-related infrastructure.

    That would seem a reasonable way to ensure that bike owners in the city are funding the infrastructure they need (more bike related purchases suggests heavier use of the infrastructure) and as the above article argues: bike users in Toronto (thus presumably, bike purchasers in Toronto) are the ones using the infrastructure. There’s also no punishment for owning a bike that way–if all your bike does is collect dust… who cares?

    It would produce steady, directed, predictable revenue. And it would get stop the bikers from begging the city council for the loose change to buy paint and poles. If bike lane investments really do produce more users, then the effect would snowball, and we’d get to the point where the bike committee would have enough funding to do their own studies and their own lobbying.

    I would also be in favour of such a tax on all car-related purchases in the city for car-only related infrastructure, although as the article illustrates this runs into the “municipal boundaries” problem very quickly.

    So… Dave, are you opposed to any kind of directed tax to help support bike lanes, or just the licensing idea?


  10. Thanks Herb. I was about to say the same thing.

    Someone please do correct me if I am wrong (I couldn’t find this information in a quick google search), but I am pretty sure that yes, city roads are paid for by property taxes, and only highways are paid for by actual drivers (through gas taxes, I think?).

    Is that correct? Please someone post information to confirm or disprove this, because I’m *really* sick of hearing the ‘cyclists get a free ride’ argument all the time.

    Especially when it comes from people who live outside of the GTA but commute in – they are theoretically ‘paying their way’ to use the highways, but then get a ‘free ride’ on city roads, since they don’t pay Toronto property taxes, right?

  11. Gidget,

    I believe most of the city’s tax base is from property taxes, and the city pays for maintaining local roads.

    But, to be fair to commuters, the property tax base comes from tenants and landowners. So, if you come to the city, and work, or visit someone, or buy something… you’re contributing to the tax base, because someone is paying property taxes to work or live in the city.

    Really, the city should be as open as possible to as many people as possible. Getting into arguments about “who is paying for what” is a waste of time… we are a public collective. Some expenses must simply come from the public purse.


  12. Excellent blog Mes,
    The fact is that we all pay taxes and so we all should have the freedom to choose between safe biking, driving, walking or city transit.
    We have to move this city forward.

  13. Even if Mammoliti is out of step on this one, one has to appreciate that at least he’s taken an articulated position. I’m more disappointed that Smitherman, who is for all intents, the front-runner, is still sitting on the fence with no real policy or answer on this issue except “wait and see”.

  14. Dude, you live in Woodbridge. Run for mayor there and stay the hell out of my city.

  15. Look, all of you talking about who really pays for what, and how much cyclists are thus overtaxed and drivers over-subsidized are being LOGICAL, and are talking about things that are TRUE. Nobody wants logical or true: they want to have their cake, eat it too, and be told they are a good boy or girl for doing so. The fact that most readers of Spacing should find ‘The Colbert Report’ funny means we understand how N.American politics works; the unwashed masses don’t. Stop being LOGICAL. That’s ‘preaching to the choir’.

  16. City roads and many city highways like the Gardiner and DVP are maintatined by municipal property taxes. Municipalities, regions or counties pay for their roads from taxes on residents. .
    The 400 series highways and certain roads which are designated as Provincial highways are paid for by the Provincial gas tax – but only in theory.
    What actually happens is gas tax revenues go into Provincial coffers and Provincial highway maintenance and expansion are paid for out of general revenues or specific program revenue.
    Transit lines hire their own police, while policing roads at all levels plays a large role in police budgets. Unlike railways roads are property tax free.

  17. Richard, that strikes me as almost like taxing shoe sales to fund sidewalk construction. Those pedestrians are getting a free ride.

    No public transportation infrastructure is built with user fees. Highways aren’t, municipal streets aren’t, and sidewalks aren’t. Why should cycling infrastructure be different?

  18. It appalls me that none of our erstwhile Mayoral candidates have as yet directed their attention to some of the most flagrant abusers of public infrastructure: pedestrians, who wear out sidewalks with their incessant ambling and loitering and aimless window shopping. A $20-$30 registration fee for footwear would help pay for sidewalk repair and maintenance. No doubt suburban taxpayers in neighbourhoods without sidewalks are tired of subsidizing pet pedestrianization projects that only benefit those who live and walk downtown.

    A $20-$30 registration fee for strollers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters would also bring in much-needed revenue to pay for public infrastructure.

    [End sarcasm].

    As at least one other commenter has pointed out, cyclists — who pay property taxes whether as renters or homeowners — actually subsidize drivers. I for one am tired of paying for “pet projects” like highway repair and widening in the suburban parts of the city.

    To those (e.g., Richard) who have proposed a levy on bike-related purchases, please note that point-of-sale charges are among the most regressive taxes because they place a disproportionate burden on those least able to afford to pay them.

  19. This is a ridiculous policy. We need to save our environment, not make it worse. Making people pay to use their bicycles is horrendous. It goes against all that we have been trying to do – REDUCE pollution by carpooling, taking public transit, walking, and RIDING BICYCLES. We should just take cars off the road altogether; then there will be less accidents and less pollution. Now THAT’S a solution!

  20. Antony,

    I would say the difference between sidewalks and bike lanes is that bike lanes are targetted at a very particular use and logic (keep bicyclists from being endangered by cars, and being a danger to pedestrians… right?) whereas sidewalks are viewed, now, as a general good. Though I believe historically they were quite controversial, and viewed as an impediment to traffic. heh.

    Funding for bike lanes is clearly controversial. The existence of bike lanes is clearly controversial. Licensing is probably not a useful way to go due to the costs involved, but a 1% sales tax directed towards sustaining biking infrastructure deflates a lot of the concerns: if the bicyclists are paying their own way, they become a lot more virtuous to support.

    It’s kind of like no politician gets in the way of a neighbourhood fundraising for playground equipment. If it’s paying it’s own way, then it’s a good thing.


    Yes, a sales tax is regressive. But it’s a lot less regressive than a license in this case. We’re talking a <1% increase (13% HST already applies to these goods). That’s not going to take anyone off their bike. And it will provide a funding base for all those bike lanes, and studies, and (as I said) lobbying for more bike-related infrastructure.

    Anyway, if biking is a method of transportation that favours the poor over the rich, then redirecting the money to only biking infrastructure is dispersive, and helpful to the poor.

    I don’t think the mayoral candidates would be able to raise as much of a stink about spending money on bike lanes if the “bike committee” was sitting on $12 million of tax money raised from bike related-sales in the city. Clearly there would be an implicit demand for infrastructure to help protect bikers. It would be like arguing with a BIA that wanted to plant more trees and had the money for it.

    Them are my thoughts.


  21. herb

    what are you smoking. bike riders pay the same in taxes. my vehicle purchase had over $8,000 in taxes how much did your tricycle have.

    Fuel up my hummer 3 times a week another 150 in taxes

    luv these out of control govt’s

    what a goof

  22. Until today I was not aware that you were not allowed to ride your bike on the road.[/sarcasam]

    The arguments on who is subsidizing who are comical. Hello residents of Toronto, it is Dukes Cycle and the rest of the commercial assessment base that subsidizes you all.

  23. Dave
    This idea isn’t any worse than the cat police we had for 2 years. The city didn’t mind wasting money on that idea.

  24. Che stronzo, questo Mammoliti. Cyclists should be rewarded and not surtaxed for our role in improving not only air quality, but reducing traffic snarls.

    I didn’t mind the posey family pictures, but they are obviously just out for a pleasure ride (though I do get the idea that they are probably not in the centre of a major city, unless they are in a very large park). I’d prefer photos of cyclists or all ages commuting to work, school or shopping – say in Scarborough or another Toronto suburb.

    Are there any pro-environmental candidates? You may be aware that we have a municipal party here, Projet Montréal, with a very pro-environmental and pro-cyclist programme. They have a majority in Plateau-Mt-Royal arrondissement and my local councillor (Petite Patrie seat in Rosemont-Petite-Patrie) is also a Projet Montréal member.

  25. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with folks that disagree, Richard.

    It’s too bad that rational arguments are completely irrelevant to city politics and cycling in Toronto. The discussion feeds from frustration that “traffic is terrible (and it’s someone else’s fault)” which is redirected with “scofflaw cyclists are to blame and should be made to suffer like I do”.

    Mammoliti brought it up uninvited in his ‘debate’ with Yvonne.

  26. I appreciated Yvonne’s talking points. In that spirit, for Rob (who might just be trolling):

    Local roads are paid for from city property taxes. Local roads are paid for from city property taxes. Local roads are paid for from city property taxes. Local roads are paid for from city property taxes. Local roads are paid for from city property taxes. Local roads are paid for from city property taxes.

    I’m sure the province is happy to get the PST from Rob’s hummer, and the 400 series highway maintenance fund appreciates his gas tax. Neither has anything to do with cycling facilities in Toronto.

  27. @ Maria

    So far, Joe Pantalone and Sarah Thompson are the only high-profile candidates to have an ambitious vision for the environment and alternative transportation (I believe both said that they do support bike lanes wherever appropriate).

  28. Maybe a decade ago, a listing of various studies gave a range of between $1,000 and $4,600 per car per year of avoided indirect costs, subsidies and what’s known as externalities like climate change.
    There’s no doubt that vehicles are expensive to run, but the clear vehicle of this greenhouse century is the bike.
    We’re not doing enough for them in the right places. That tends to be east-west, far less so north-south.

  29. I’m all for licensing bicyclist, with little license plates on the back of each bike. Bike cops with little flashing lights pulling over bicyclists. Car drivers and bicyclists exchanging insurance information after a cash. Little miniature lanes made for bicyclists across the whole city, with little miniature traffic lights for all the bicyclists. We can little bicycling licenses in our back pockets. Small tow-bicycles cruising around listening in on police CBs.

  30. Here is how it works,

    City streets are paid for through property taxes. The provincial gasoline taxes, and licence fees go into general revenue, general revenue then pays for highway maintenance and the administration and cost of motor vehicle plates. This means that if the cost of maintaining highways, far outstrips the cost of those taxes, it’s still paid for,

    Mayoral candidates forget two important factors:

    1) Narrower roads, means more land for development (more city taxable land), and less construction and maintenance cost,

    2) The mayor is a single vote on council, the mayor can say he will do whatever he likes, but still needs to convince a majority of council members to side with him.

  31. @Rob Chrysler – What car do you drive that costs $8000 in taxes?!? My car itself was $8000 (2001 Toyota Echo (Yaris)). Also, what kind of driving do you do to warrant 3 fill ups per week? I use my car for deliveries, drive 250km per day on average, and only have to fill up 2-3 times per week, tops.

    On the topic, licensing bikes is a non-starter. Period. Is little 6 year old Billy who just took off his training wheels going to have to spend $30 per year or risk being pulled over by the cops? Or are 15-17 year olds going to be consistently harassed by cops wanting to see ID to make sure they are under 18 riding unlicensed bikes? Speaking of which, what about people who bike into Toronto proper? Are they going to have to present ID to prove they don’t live in Toronto or risk getting fined for riding unlicensed bikes?

    With that said, the city has no requirement to install any bike lanes whatsoever. Cyclists can ride along the curb on any street, bike lanes are a luxury. What would be a more reasonable position would be to charge a 0.25% sales tax (63 cents on a $250 bicycle) on new bikes sold in Toronto to help maintain and expand bike lanes in the city. This could also be extended to other devices that allow people to use bike lanes safely (roller blades, skateboards, etc.).

    Finally, seeing where Giorgio Mammoliti stands on many issues, I seriously think his only goal is to make Rob Ford look like an competent candidate, and to insult the intelligence of voters in his riding.

  32. OK, Richard, let us play your game,

    as a daily cyclist who also own a car, I am paying property tax and license fee for my car (which I seldom drive), so I am contributing at least as much as the other drivers financially, while causing much less road maintenance need, right?

    But what the heck, if you want me to fork out another bit of money just for bike lanes, either registration fees or surtax, fine. Let us talk about the cost, and what should I expect for my money. Do we get Bloor cross-town bike lane next year? When do all major thoroughfares get their bike lanes? If those will be coming alone, then deal, take my money and deliver my bike lanes.

    The simple fact is, bike lanes are very cheap to build (in Toronto they are basically just some paint job), the problem is not the money, but the lack of political will, the antiquate idea of super-cheap on-street parking, etc.

  33. Richard, your view that cyclists should pay a special tax for cycling-related infrastructure is akin to the specious argument that only parents with school-aged children should pay education-related property taxes.

    Your arguments about special levies to fund dedicated bike lanes also seem to rely on a policy framework in which cyclists should and/or will gradually be quarantined from traffic. Sorry, don’t agree with this, nor do any cycling advocates I know.

    What you are suggesting is essentially a user fee, only instead of being charged for using a city service like a public pool, we would be charged for using something we own. Not only that, we would be charged to use a transportation device that is already a net benefit (economically, environmentally, socially and medically) to the public purse.

    It’s funny that you should suggest that money raised by shaking down cyclists via legislation could be used to help lobby for and fund transportation infrastructure. I have a better suggestion: join the Toronto Cyclists Union. It’s voluntary, and they do a better job.

  34. I would happily pay a cycling license fee, bike registration fee, cycling-specific “road taxes”, etc. As long as all road expenses are removed from the general tax bill, and motorists have to pay their fair share of maintenance, repair, expansion, etc. too.

    As for “Rob Chrysler’s” comments (I’m almost sure that’s just a troll, with a good name): Sure…you pay lots of taxes on your motor vehicle. But the money I save by not dumping it into an automobile gets spent on other things. And taxed on those other things. So I’m paying into the general tax pool too.

  35. I just wanted to point out one important thing about vehicular economics (Hamish Wilson touches on it in an earlier comment). Cars (drivers) DON’T pay their own way – they are subsidized by everyone, non-drivers included. Cars and trucks produce what economists call “externalities”, which is something that isn’t captured by the market. One of these is pollution. The pollution caused by vehicles is not paid for directly when people buy their car or buy gasoline….we ALL pay for it via the healthcare system, crop losses, etc. Bikes are a net benefit to society, as they reduce health care costs and don’t damage city infrastructure. If we built bike only streets and cyclists had to pay for them, infrastructure costs would plummet and taxes would go down.

    Also, citizens in the city core actually subsidize the suburban lifestyle because it costs much more to maintain suburban living (via higher infrastructure and health care costs) than it does to live downtown.

  36. Shaun, what evidence do you that supports the notion that citizens in the city core subsidize anyone. It is a common assumption but one that has tenuous support. There are at least as many studies that show the opposite.
    This review of the literature suggests that two important questions remain unresolved. First, do regions with larger populations exert larger environmental impacts per capita, with the subsequent need to spend more per capita on environmental protection services? Second, do administrative efficiencies allow larger regions to supply services at a lower cost per capita than smaller ones? Some of the empirical studies point to diseconomies of scale, while others suggest the opposite. Thus, a need exists for research on the relationship between the population size of a region and its related environmental expenditures, especially in the context of recent amalgamation initiatives in Ontario.
    The results from both models suggest regions with larger populations tend to spend more per capita on environmental services than regions with smaller populations. While the findings remain tentative due to data limitations discussed below, they indicate that diseconomies of scale may exist in the provision of environmental services. It appears the recent amalgamation of Toronto and similar amalgamation efforts may increase the per capita cost of providing environmental services.


    The results from this analysis indicate a diseconomy of scale in the provision of environmental services. Our results also suggest no economy of scale in other municipal services.

  37. I forgot this more recent one;
    The Impact of Population Density on Municipal Government Expenditures.

    Data from 487 municipal governments with populations greater than 50,000 are examined to see the relationship between population density and per capita government expenditures. There is no statistically significant relationship between per capita total government expenditures and operational expenditures for cities smaller than 500,000, and for larger cities, higher population density is associated with higher per capita government expenditures. Infrastructure expenditures tend to decline with increases in population density for cities smaller than 500,000, whereas expenditures on services tend to increase with population density for cities larger than 500,000. The relationship between per capita total expenditures and population density has policy relevance because it indicates that when all government expenditures are taken into account, policies that increase population density will not reduce per capita government expenditures and, in larger cities, will lead to higher per capita government expenditures.

  38. Time to pay bike fees! LIKE TOLLS, IT’S GOING TO BE IMPLEMENTED SOONER OR LATER! Can everyone stop being such cheap monkeys and learn to pay for things?

  39. Besides the arguments about financing bike and automobile infrastructure, drivers should be grateful for cyclists in that every cyclist is a driver not on the road. The more cyclists there are, the faster automobile traffic flows. Drivers should be encouraging cycling and, if they were behaving rationally, should be delighted to fund cycling infrastructure.

  40. Glen, those sources do not contradict the point I was making and are barely worth commenting on. I have no idea why you posted a link to an American study, as the public there doesn’t subside health costs like we do; a key part of my argument.

  41. Shaun, it was response to your last paragraph where you said…..”Also, citizens in the city core actually subsidize the suburban lifestyle because it costs much more to maintain suburban living (via higher infrastructure and health care costs) than it does to live downtown.”

    To which I provided research that casts doubt on that notion. Do you have any evidence that downtown residents are healthier and therefore less of a financial burden, compared to suburban?

  42. Thanks for the post Dave. I have discussed this issue and referenced this post in my latest blog entry.

    All the best

  43. I have a concern about the road worthiness of many bikes, and the common sense of those who ride them.

    Yesterday while “walking” on Bloor St. West I heard a strange noise. Looking around I saw a guy slowing his bike down by placing the sole of his runner against the back wheel. It would appear that he had no back break!

    If as a car driver I were to put a vehicle on the road with defective breaks I would get a ticket, and as I understand it so should a cyclist. Cars have to have periodic safety checks for which a fee is charged. Why should cyclists not also have to get a safety certificate, and perhaps insurance as well!

    Licensing is a means of raising Taxes, and I believe that all road users should pay taxes. It is also a way of controlling standards, and safety should be of prime concern to all road users.

    Maybe there should be a driving test as well for cyclists. I know that there are many bad drivers out there who should not be on the road. But not all cyclists are skilled in dealing with today’s road conditions.

    So my comment to cyclists in general is until you can show that as a majority you can abide by the rules of the Highway Code, maintain road safe bikes and ride without using your shoes to slow you down, you wont get my support or I suspect that of many other “Tax paying” motorists.

    And please don’t jump on the Green band wagon of cars against bikes!